Mafia II was one of my favourite games of the last generation, offering a really good gangster narrative that kept the action flowing. So Mafia III has been on the radar since its announcement and while it isn’t a direct sequel to Vito Scaletta’s story, the intrigue was there to see how the series would change. There’s a lot of differences, as the series heads to the 1960s, with Lincoln Clay as the protagonist, a member of the black mob. You also leave behind the New York City inspired Empire Bay for the New Orleans inspired New Bordeaux, where racism and segregation is the norm.
Starting up the game there is a message from Hangar 13 warning people of the racism present in Mafia III, but that it was incorporated to show what many people did and do experience in their daily lives. The city of New Bordeaux is quite segregated though the opening shows a group of friends from different backgrounds working together to pull off a heist. The races of each apparently unimportant to this group, but things change quickly, Lincoln will be subjected to name calling and being barred from entering certain establishments throughout the game.
The setting of New Bordeaux is diverse yet compact. The map isn’t so large that it takes ages to cross, yet every neighbourhood has its own style and character. There’s a massive contrast between the French Ward with its Bourbon Street inspired locations and the swampy bayou filled with alligators, even though driving between the two takes a couple of minutes. There’s more life in the city, but there’s still the problem of there not really being much to do. There are plenty of buildings you can enter which gives the town a more natural feel to it, but there’s nothing to do in the buildings except steal money from the till and the employee only areas.
The first few hours of the game progress through the story and events quickly yet effectively. There’s the desire to see where the story will go next, and it is helped by it being presented in a documentary style, with archive footage and interviews with people who experienced the events. This trend is similar to the one that was present in Mafia II where the story kept moving forward at a good pace, and held your attention.
However, after that opening though Mafia III sets into a repetitive rhythm. You’ll go into territories and weaken an underboss by interrogating members of their group, learning details of their operation, attacking a couple of locations to bring the value of their operation down to zero, and maybe kill their enforcers to make the final encounter easier. You then face off against the underboss to either kill them or recruit them so your own underbosses get more money and influence.
This is really interesting to start with, but then the repetition really kicks in and it also contrives to slow the story’s progress. You need to complete side missions to take over territory and it’s only once some of these objectives are done that you’ll unlock a story mission. I can understand why this was done, as Lincoln needs to consolidate some power to move on his main targets, but performing a similar loop each time diminishes the overall interest. I want to see the rise of Lincoln Clay and his associates in a city where the old order needs to adapt, but I don’t want to have two different missions take place in the same location with the same formula.
You can choose to sneak into places and take people out like an assassin, or go in all guns blazing depending on your style. I personally liked mixing it up a bit by either shooting everyone, hiding for a bit and then striking from cover, or moving through areas and seeing how many people I could take down without alerting the sentries. If they’re alerted, one will make a break from a phone in order to call in reinforcements.
One of the highlights of Mafia III is the feel of the guns. They feel heavy when you fire them and the reactions of enemies when they get hit are well animated. A headshot will just see someone drop to the ground, while those who have been hit in the gut will stumble back before falling down, either dead or writhing in pain. Mafia III has some of the best gun fighting to date, while the melee also has heft. Lincoln can throw a hard punch which can knock enemies back and he has some brutal takedown animations – these are alwas lethal, unless you toggle the menu option to make them non-lethal. Lincoln can’t take too much damage so using cover is key to confronting larger groups of enemies.
Mafia III’s plot is well written, with plenty of characters that have a feeling of depth. Those who played Mafia II will already be familiar with Vito, who has been sent down to New Bordeaux to work with the big boss in town, though not all is peachy with their relationship. Then you have the likes of Burke and Cassandra who have their own issues with the power split of the town. As you take over territory you’ll assign the rackets within to one of these underbosses, who will manage the day to day operations. There are optional missions to carry out for them which will increase their loyalty, with tasks being things like collecting drug drops. Let their loyalty drop too low, and they can actually try to betray you and stab you in the back.
Another one of the best features of Mafia III is the soundtrack. The main menu’s song is Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of All Along The Watchtower, and as you scroll through the stations on the car radio, you’ll hear so many familiar hits from the era. There were moments where I would just drive around listening to the music. The compiled song list will easily be a contender for soundtrack of the the year, along with the original soundtrack created for the game’s moments of action.
There are issues with Mafia III outside of the repetitive loop of the missions, including various glitches and some dumb enemy moments. NPCs can get stuck in the scenery and there is noticeable pop in with cars suddenly appearing in the road. There was also a lighting issue where, as you drive under clouds, shadows enveloped the area incredibly quickly, only for the brightness to shoot back up when they pass without a good transition. It was very distracting while driving around.
There are also occasions where enemy NPCs simply don’t notice you even where you’re right next to them. During one mission, I managed to sneak right up to one of the enemies and just sit there as hie awareness meter slowly filled up, despite being a foot from his side. Even when they do come after you, most of the enemies are quite easy to handle, it’s just when a large group come at you that the game becomes particularly challenging.
Mafia III is a game with a great plot, great characters, and great setting, but it’s hamstrung by the repetitive nature of its mission structure. Having to go through the same tasks in each territory means a sense of fatigue enters quickly, and there isn’t much in the way of distractions within New Bordeaux to break things up. The pieces of a great game are all here, but they just don’t quite fit together.
Version tested: PS4